Spring has come to the United States but the magnificentTetons are still bedecked in snow. Theyform the backdrop to one of America's great littleplaces: Jackson, Wyo. Jackson is a rare bird—a small town plunked down in the middle of federal landthat hasn't changed much in several years.
It's very comforting in this inconstant world we livein to find things in town much the same: Barker-Ewingstill runs float trips down the Snake River, as it has for43 years; Teton Wagon Train still thrills families underits family management of 30 years; Snow King Resort isstill right there at the foot of Wyoming's first ski slope,which opened in 1939; and Jackson's town square, withmassive arches of elk horn at each corner in a kitsch display,remains unchanged since the 1950s (307-733-3316; www.jacksonholechamber.com).
Jackson can't grow out, so it seems to grow in. Manyalleys branch off from the streets to create little touristdelights. It's obvious that tourism is big business. An 80-page glossy dining guide lists 66 restaurants in a townwhose year-round population is less than 12,000. Onerestaurant on everyone's list for dÃ©cor rather than food isthe Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (www.milliondollarcowboybar.com). An eatery since 1936, its bar stools are polishedsaddles. Its decorations include the West's largestdisplay of spurs and a stuffed grizzly apparently killed—as verified by the Forestry Service—by an unarmed manit attacked. He allegedly bit its jugular and the bear bledto death. The Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum is justaround the corner. How Ripley let that grizzly escape hisown collection is unclear.
Another tourist attraction that's gone on for half acentury (in fact, it's the longest running Westernshootout in the country) is the town's gunfight. Staged 6nights a week every summer at the corner of Broadwayand Center, locals yield their vantage spots with friendlysmiles when they see visitors with cameras.
Jackson is a town full of friendly people. Even thebagpipers practicing for the Annual Cameron Highlandersevent in the town stop when visitors want topass without an earful. The Scottish connection is nosurprise in Jackson; many of the mountain men whofirst came here were Scots.
If you are staying at the Snow King Resort (800-522-5464; www.snowking.com) on the south edge oftown, a scenic chairlift is right at your door. In 30 minutesit brings you to the Panorama House, where youcan survey the land from 7751 feet before wanderingthe nature trail at the top. Those staying at the historicWort Hotel (800-322-2727; www.worthotel.com) intown can catch a musical at the old Jackson HolePlayhouse. The National Museum of Wildlife Art,overlooking the national Elk Refuge, lies a short distanceto the north as does the Grand Teton NationalPark—and beyond it, Yellowstone.
The Snake River meanders through Jackson, allowingcompanies like Barker-Ewing to offer both scenic andwhite water float trips. Heather Ewing, who now runsthe family business, says, "Development of the Americanoutdoors is growing exponentially. So there are fewerand fewer pockets of land left to be enjoyed in the UnitedStates. But here we have the privilege of traveling by riverto embrace and interpret the history of America."
Most of the people who visit this little place in theshadow of the majestic Tetons come with an appreciationof the outdoors. And they leave with an increasedlove of their country.